What if Google shared its profits off your data with you?

Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown

Google makes a lot of money. In the first quarter of 2019, Google earned just over $36 billion in revenue. That’s about $400 million every day. Profit margins are currently at around 23 percent, so that’s $92 million every 24 hours in profit.

While the company earns its cash in many different ways, it primarily earns its revenue on the back of your Google data.

When you use Google products — including Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, and anything else with the word Google in it — the company tracks how you use those products. It builds a profile for you based on your usage and then uses that information to match you to products and services you will likely enjoy.

With this system, Google can help advertisers pinpoint the exact demographics to which they might want to advertise. This revenue stream makes up the bulk of that daily $400 million cash flow.

In no uncertain terms, you are helping Google earn all that money. In return, you get to use the majority of Google’s services for free. But is that a fair deal?

What if you earned a percentage of the money your Google data earns the company? What if a part of that $36 billion earned last quarter was yours?

What’s your data worth? We don’t know yet

A photo of Datally showing YouTube's data usage

How much your specific data is worth would be integral information in this hypothetical scenario of shared Google data profits. Unfortunately, Google — and other companies with this business model, such as Facebook — are under no obligation to divulge this information.

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That could change in the future thanks to a bill with bipartisan support that would force companies like Google to give details on what each person in the Google ecosystem earns for the company. The bill would, among other things, make it a company’s obligation to inform its users individually how much money they earned for that company.

In the case of Facebook, there are estimates around that the average user earns the company about $7 per month. Heavier users might earn Facebook anywhere from $11 – $14 per month. These are just estimates — the real numbers could be much higher.

Google is under no obligation to inform users how much it makes off them, but that could change soon.

Hypothetically, let’s assume Facebook makes $10 per month off the average user. If Facebook shared 5 percent of that revenue with each user (a number I’m just picking at random), that would mean they’d each earn $0.50 per month from using Facebook. That’s hardly a noteworthy amount.

However, that’s just Facebook. What if you also earned a cut from your Google data as well as any other “free” service where your data is mined, which would include YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, dating apps like Tinder, and even the Android operating system itself? When you combine all those together, you are laying the framework for consistent income from multiple sources without any change to your current lifestyle.

Sure, the revenue could be small, if Facebook is any indication, but the concept is there: you earn money passively by helping other companies earn money.

If you got a share of your Google data earnings, it would be similar to a UBI

A Google logo.

While earning a couple of extra bucks each month from your Google data might not significantly change your life, it would be an extra injection of passive income. It would be money earned not from working but from simply existing. Essentially, it would be similar to a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

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There are many variations on a UBI, but the general outcome is that each individual in a particular area receives enough money each month from the government to cover the basic costs of living. This would include rent, food, transportation, and even internet access. Depending on the area of the world, a UBI could be anywhere from hundreds to even thousands of dollars per month simply handed over to citizens to do with as they please.

The idea of a UBI has been making headlines as of late due to prominent economists proclaiming it as not only a great idea to increase the quality of life for the average person but also a way to boost the overall economy. There have even been successful test runs of UBI rollouts in countries like Finland and botched tests in places like Canada.

The concept of a Universal Basic Income is a tough pill for many to swallow, but a revenue share with Google might make it easier.

However, a UBI is such a dramatic departure from how societies view the worth of a person that it will take a long time for it to be adopted on any large scale, if it ever gets adopted at all. Here in the United States especially, a person’s “worth” is intrinsically tied to how much work they do and how much money they earn for that work. To change that would be a fundamental shift in our values, which would take a long time and likely cause more than a few conflicts.

This concept of users getting a portion of the money they earn for companies like Google might be a way to slowly transition citizens to understand how a UBI would actually work. In other words, sharing in the revenue of major companies could act as a stepping stone to people abandoning the concept that the only way to survive and have any life comforts is to work.

What if this is the future of income?

Regardless of whether or not Google adopts revenue sharing related to your data or if that revenue sharing leads to societal acceptance of a UBI, the concept of earning money by using free products that, in turn, help that company earn money could be the future of income.

On a small scale, we’ve already seen this in effect with a Google product called Google Opinion Rewards. With this app, Google will occasionally send you surveys or questions related to your life. Answering these questions earns you credit in small amounts (anywhere from $0.10 to $1) which can be used to buy things on the Google Play Store.

We may never see revenue sharing with Google, but something needs to change about how we look at earning money.

Sure, it’s not a lot of credit and you can’t use it as cash, but the concept is very similar to this idea of your Google data earning you money. In the case of Opinion Rewards, you are actively handing over your data to the company. The only difference with revenue sharing for your Google data is that you’d be earning by using your Google products as normal instead of performing an active task.

This could be the long-term solution we are looking for when it comes to the future of income. As robots come along and take jobs away from humans and artificial intelligence eliminates the need for humans to do menial tasks, we will find ourselves with a massive population and no jobs for those people to actually do. If our wealth value system is still based on the idea that people need to work at a job simply to live, we are going to face some serious problems.

What do you think? Let us know your opinions on this in the comments.

NEXT: How does Google make money from Android?

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